I have been contemplating the nature of flow from both my scientific background and my emerging spirituality. The flow I’m talking about is when you’re in that sweet spot where your talent and passion collide and actions and events seem to fall into place smoothly and easily. During flow, you lose track of time, and people say to you, “wow, how did you do that?”, or “you should do that for a living.” Don’t dismiss those comments. Just because it’s a no-brainer for you doesn’t mean it’s that way for others.
It’s no surprise, therefore, that the metaphors around flow have to do with water: go with the flow, in with the tide, versus swimming upstream, going against the tide.
I suspect that if you asked 100 people if they’ve had the positive flow experience, the vast majority of them would say that they had. If you asked the same 100 people if they had experienced the swimming upstream metaphor, all 100 people would reply in the affirmative.
So what is it in our life that provides this shared experience of flow? Is it something spiritual (the will of the universe?) or something that can be explained logically?
Given my recent obsession with StrengthsFinders, I am inclined to approach a logical inquiry by starting with our strengths. The positive psychology literature shows that when people work with their strengths, they are happier, more productive, engaged and creative. I would also surmise that they are likely to be more present and in the moment. The net result is that they will also have greater access to their intuition (probably why they have a strength there to begin with), are more observant, are able to convert that information that others may completely miss and rapidly channel that into a fascinating opportunity. Others take note of that talent and doors begin to open. An obvious and logical path emerges as one moves towards a goal. Success builds upon success in an upward spiral.
Conversely, if we’re working in an area of relative weakness, then we are struggling and must work harder to accomplish the same task. We may fail to note what may seem obvious to others, and will have difficulty putting the pieces together in a useful and meaningful way. Others may simply view us as clueless, incompetent or not trying. Continuing to pursue areas of weakness may feel like we’re constantly swimming upstream as we find that doors fail to open for us. Resisting the flow and fighting the directionality of our lives is exhausting, depressing and discouraging. All of the above makes it harder to succeed, resulting in a downward spiral.
I am not sure the above explanation accounts for all the pieces that often seem to fall into place when we’re in flow. Sometimes when in flow, factors that seem completely unrelated may have a role, subtle or conspicuous, in shaping the outcome of a situation. When we’re in flow, perhaps we’re less likely to allow hurdles to deter us and more likely to take advantage of an opportune event. Or perhaps this is where the universe steps in.
Regardless of whether the reason for flow can be explained or proven with scientific inquiry or logic, I believe that being in flow is an indicator that we are engaged in our life’s purpose. Since we all have strengths (as described in a previous blog), then it follows that everyone, from the biggest screw-up to the most successful billionaire, all have unique talents and strengths that can be channeled into their own version of genius! We are all savants in some way, and that discovery is ours to uncover. Should we be so willing.
Sometimes it seems we are all too willing to discover our failures as a person. What about our successes? Where are you looking?